The advantages of getting your suppliers involved in your PLM system

suppliers_in_plm_fashion_2Fashion businesses often tell us that they ‘have involved suppliers’, but when we go and look at what they are doing, that isn’t exactly the case. More often than not, what they mean by ‘involving’ is that they’ve instructed the supplier, who then keep the business updated with progresses. This means that the head office is entirely dependent on the supplier to be a good communicator and that a lot of emails and spreadsheets will be passed back and forth. Often these emails and spreadsheets will cross each other, making constant clarification crucial to be sure both sides are working on the same data.

Suppliers, product lifecycle management and communications
So this ‘involvement’ means little more than the HQ team doing style/product/sampling/ordering/shipment and maintenance and the supplier undertaking the execution of the product. On that basis it sounds relatively straightforward, at least if you don’t factor in the incredible number of emails and spreadsheets involved. But that’s only the beginning of the process. The many stages of the fashion supply chain from approval through to pricing information, sample status, production status and information on materials all need to be updated, agreed, approved or rejected. Alterations and variations need to be indicated and confirmed. Queries need to be resolved.

And finally, all this information needs to be collated by a member of the head office team, so that spreadsheets or other systems are updated. Only at this point is the fashion enterprise able to see its business in detail and create effective reporting on its progress – or lack of it!

Cloud PLM and suppliers
Cloud PLM offers a transformative view of the relationship between a creative industry and its suppliers and indeed between a fashion enterprise and its own head office team. The reasons are clear:

a – because supplier staff can be trained to update information on products from cost through to completion, there is no time lag. Senior team members can see, in real time, the progress and cost of any product so problems can be spotted and successes can be capitalised on rapidly.

b – because there is no dependance on an individual or department to keep everybody up to date on progress, there is no silo development. Each relevant individual, team or group has access to real time product information so there is natural transparency which reveals inefficiency or bottlenecks in the process. As a result regular improvement in product creation is inbuilt.

Further reasons to involve suppliers in your PLM

  • Suppliers can have a crucial role in developing improvement – because Cloud PLM supply chain participants have synchronised information, it is easier for suppliers to discover new ideas, streamline processes, find efficiencies and accelerate product delivery.
  • Global supply chains in the fashion industry have complex logistical processes as well as demanding component levels – an engineered product such as a brassiere may have sixty components, plus demanding sizing requirements with minuscule tolerances. Being able to share and refine information through Cloud PLM means a clearer, more sensitive supply chain and a simpler, more responsive downstream data system which can be updated with seasonal and even colour variations to improve time to market for what sells, whilst scaling back or re-engineering what proving is less successful on the sales rack.
  • The development stage contains around 70% of the lifetime cost of a product. Having swift, clear and real-time correctable design processes, available to all those involved in development inevitably leads to more controlled review before implementation, to evidence based input from those directly involved in production and to immediate modelling of potential refinements and alterations to product.
  • Security is inbuilt where a central Cloud-based data system allows key users to control who sees information. System security gives the ability to tailor data access so that creative capital is safeguarded and fakes, plagiarisation and piracy are reduced.

For all these practical reasons, involving suppliers in PLM is a good idea. However, there is also an intangible idea, relating to fashion brand identity, which is just as valid. Fashion brands are under scrutiny on many levels – quality, cost, the ‘X’ factor of being a ‘must have’ but also their ethical standards, their environmental credentials and their relationship with their customers. Involving suppliers in PLM is also a simple way to enable you to demonstrate that you are a ‘good fashion brand’.

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